Knit Like A Boss: Off to the Laces

I hope you’ve been practicing your increases and decreases, because you’re really going to need them this week. We’re tackling lace knitting, so ready your needles and your patience.

I like to say that there are no hard patterns, only complicated ones. See, once you’ve learned the basic stitches, all you do to make complex lace patterns is follow the organizational instructions for the increases and decreases to make a beautiful design. You have to count and pay close attention, but really, no patterns are completely impossible.

Lace is just a series of yarn overs (which create a hole) and decreases (using k2tog and slip slip knit to lean in the preferred direction) between stockinette stitches. The way that you organize them determines what the lace looks like. Generally, a single repeat will have the same number of decreases as yarn overs, so the final stitch count will be the same at every row. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really just about following directions.

Speaking of directions, there are two ways that lace patterns are explained: written and charts.

Written directions are exactly what they sound like. The instructions are written as a series of stitches. Sometimes they will use “rep to end,” which means you repeat the pattern until the end of the row or round.

For example: k1, k2tog, yo, rep to end

If you are only supposed to repeat part of the pattern, this will be indicated by an asterisk or brackets. Sometimes they will tell you to repeat until a certain number of stitches before the end of the row.

For example: k1, k2tog, yo, [k3, k2tog, yo], rep to 2 before end, k2

A good example of a lace hat pattern that uses written instructions is the Arrow Hat. Or if you have enough head wear, try the Tilting TARDIS Cowl (you may have to join Ravelry to access that, but it’s free).

I like making hats, OK?

Charts take this exact information and put it in picture form. They’re usually a grid, with a key telling you what different symbols mean what stitches. You then read it from bottom to top and right to left.

Something like this.

Bookmarks are a good way to get used to reading simple charts. Unless you have a Kindle, in which case maybe the Troubadour scarf is a better idea.

Each of these has drawbacks and benefits, and really, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Charts are nice because you can see what the pattern is supposed to look like, but sometimes it’s easy to lose your place. Written directions are pretty easy to follow but can be hard to visualize and see if you’re doing it right. However, since many patterns out there only provide one or the other, I recommend you get comfortable with both, and when you get one of the nice designers who provides each, you can take your pick.

The Easy Leaves Scarf (see? you can do it because “easy” is right in the name!) provides a chart as well as written instructions, so you can try reading both and see what you prefer.

There are a lot of pretty lace charts out there that aren’t specifically made into patterns. My favorite is the relatively simple gull lace, which is used in several patterns. It was made famous with the Two Needle Baby Sweater in the book “Knitter’s Almanac” by Elizabeth Zimmerman, which was then adapted into the February Lady Sweater (which I made!) and countless scarves, hats, blankets, and anything else you can slap a lace design on. It’s pretty easy and looks nice, so if you just want to play around, that’s a good one. You can also search Knit Wiki for lace patterns to play with.

Look how simple!

And it’s perfectly okay, even expected, for your lace to come out like an impossible mass of holes with no distinguishable pattern the first few times. Trust me, I may be a righteous (and humble) knitter now, but the first time I made a lace beret I forgot to use a stitch marker at the beginning of the round and everything was all askew. It wasn’t pretty.

Let's pretend this never happened.

This picture doesn’t completely capture the horror of it, but I can’t take another because I donated it to the occupiers in Zuccotti Park back in October. I think that’s the only one I won’t feel bad about if it wound up in the big dumpster the NYPD brought.

As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help. Now that we’ve got the basics under our belts, we can keep moving forward with the fun stuff.

By [E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

14 replies on “Knit Like A Boss: Off to the Laces”

Bookmarks are a good way to get used to reading simple charts. Unless you have a Kindle, in which case maybe theTroubadour scarf is a better idea.

I just realized this sentence wasn’t referring to putting knitting patterns on a kindle and that I totally misread it. I guess that’s what happens when I read persephone late at night. BUT, I think a kindle would be an excellent spot for the pdf of my projects. Anyways, great article!


Because I am ambitious and think I’m a better knitter than I am, the first hat I made has a lace pattern. I thought it looked awesome. Now, I realize that is not the case. Thank you for destroying my confidence. (Kidding, kidding.) Next time, I will make a better lace pattern. You are like the Mr. Miyagi of knitting.

I made my first hat last week. And when I get my ass to the post office, I’m sending it to @Susan for her wee one. I was so sad that I made it too short for my head. Maybe this pattern will work better for me b/c it’s floppier – hats that fit really close to my head make me feel like my head is disproportionately small for the rest of my body.

I do love this series so!

I love that you donated that hat. LOL!

I learned tatting, which is another way to make lace other than knitting. I think it holds shape better, but O.M.G. it is a PAIN to learn, because it can get knotted and tangled MID STITCH sooo easily. Once you get a hang of it, though, it turns out some pretties. . .

 newbie tatted lace trim

Newbie tatted lace trim from when I first got the hang of doing it without it becoming a rat’s nest.

I love making hats, but I only have one head, so I don’t get a chance to wear them all. So I donate them. A big stack went to OWS and I’ve got more I’m about to ship off to a lady who distributes them to chemo patients. I’ve only got so much space in this tiny apartment. :)

I’ve never done anything with tatting. Looks awesome, sounds terrifying.

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